It’s official. The MP3 is dead. Or, so says one of the patent holders for MP3 audio technology, the Fraunhofer Institute.
We thank all of our licensees for their great support in making mp3 the defacto audio codec in the world, during the past two decades.
The development of mp3 started in the late 80s at Fraunhofer IIS, based on previous development results at the University Erlangen-Nuremberg. Although there are more efficient audio codecs with advanced features available today, mp3 is still very popular amongst consumers. However, most state-of-the-art media services such as streaming or TV and radio broadcasting use modern ISO-MPEG codecs such as the AAC family or in the future MPEG-H. Those can deliver more features and a higher audio quality at much lower bitrates compared to mp3.
What does this mean? Is the MP3 dead? Yes. And no.
First, it means the institute that started it all recognizes that life goes on, technology improves, and that the AAC audio file format family launched a couple of decades ago is superior.
Second, not much else in audio file formats will change right away because it’s been changing for 20 years, thanks to Apple. No, Apple didn’t invent AAC, but Apple, thanks to iTunes dominance in the music industry, made it happen.
AAC was developed with the cooperation and contributions of companies including AT&T Bell Laboratories, Fraunhofer IIS, Dolby Laboratories, Sony Corporation and Nokia. It was officially declared an international standard by the Moving Picture Experts Group in April 1997.
Apple took the bold step to move the audio industry beyond MP3 in 2003, back when DRM (digital rights management) was all the rage (sarcasm intended).
In April 2003, Apple brought mainstream attention to AAC by announcing that its iTunes and iPod products would support songs in MPEG-4 AAC format (via a firmware update for older iPods). Customers could download music in a closed-source Digital Rights Management (DRM)-restricted form of AAC (see FairPlay) via the iTunes Store or create files without DRM from their own CDs using iTunes. In later years, Apple began offering music videos and movies, which also use AAC for audio encoding.
Some de facto standards take awhile to catch on, and some take awhile to be relegated to history. Regardless of the complicated origins and history, MP3 audio was the de facto standard prior to the public internet and Napster’s popularity which cemented public use of the MP3 format, AAC has moved on to claim its right as a better solution.
Thank you, Apple.
One can argue the merits of this audio codec over that audio codec (similar arguments rage in the video world, too), but few can argue that Apple did not have a hand in moving the technology forward.
That’s what Apple does.
Remember the mouse? How about USB? Apple made the mouse and graphic user interface the de fact standards. USB? Apple pushed it upon Mac users starting in 1998 and with advancements it remains the standard for peripheral connections among computers. Some Apple inspired advancements have not fared as well, including FireWire, and more recently the proprietary Lightning connector.
I see a long list of advancements Apple has made to the industry that did not come from competitors. Retina displays on Mac, iPhone, and iPad is another example. Regardless of what one thinks of Apple and innovation, the technology gadget industry seems to follow where Apple leads. Most of the time.